Analytical Modeling of Saturated Zone Head Response to Evapotranspiration and River-Stage Fluctuations

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We investigate the response of the saturated zone (unconfined aquifer) to evapotranspiration (ET) flux at ground surface. We neglect fluid flow and storage in the unsaturated zone and treat ET as a sinusoidal forcing function at the watertable. The linearized kinematic condition is imposed at the watertable. Analytical solutions are developed for the case of flow in a domain of (a) semi-infinite extent to simulate response in a domain bounded by a river and (b) infinite lateral extent to simulate the response in a domain with no river boundaries. These solutions are fitted to observed groundwater head fluctuations recorded in observation wells at the Boise Hydrogeophysical Research Site in Idaho and the Larned Research Site in Kansas. Estimates of the amplitude of the ET flux, aquifer hydraulic conductivity, specific storage and specific yield are obtained and these compare well to published results from pumping tests conducted at the site. The field exercise is used to explore the potential for using groundwater head fluctuations to estimate ET and hydraulic parameters of unconfined aquifers.